Berkeley High School evaluates availability of mental health resources

Anne Maguire/Staff

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Berkeley High School, or BHS, is taking steps to improve the availability of mental health resources for its students, as it addressed during a Berkeley Unified School District meeting Wednesday night.

At the meeting, BUSD Director of Programs and Special Projects Patricia Saddler presented the findings of the study, which identified areas where BHS and its health center could improve to strengthen accessibility and delivery. In fall 2016, BHS partnered with UCSF to gather data on the accessibility and delivery of the high school’s behavioral health center services.

The study identified various areas for growth in Berkeley High School’s approach to supporting the mental health of its students — the school’s crisis support was found to receive a disproportionate amount of attention over other services at the school. In addition, the study reported that students “do not find the school welcoming” and generally distrust adults on campus.

“It’s not a stretch to think that part of the issue is if we have mental health professionals that either don’t resemble the students accessing them and/or (are) not culturally competent to address their needs,” said BUSD board member Karen Hemphill. “You don’t necessarily have to be the same race to respond to someone’s needs, but if you aren’t, then you particularly need training.”

The study also identified the school’s strengths, such as the staff’s commitment to providing support, the school’s trauma-informed approach and efforts currently underway to increase cultural sensitivity among staff.

In addition to mental health support resources, the school board also discussed the necessity of Berkeley High’s supplemental resources to help students with math.

Every year, the BUSD superintendent is required to recommend at least one action of service for elimination to reduce projected expenditures for the following academic year’s supplemental funding. A new recommendation presented at the meeting suggested a $59,920 reduction of funds allocated for the BHS Math Coach position.

BUSD vice president Judy Appel, however, described mathematical proficiency in BUSD’s schools as an ongoing problem that students are “really struggling with.” Later, when discussing the district budget’s unallocated revenue, BUSD board president Josh Daniels recommended allocating this money to improve the school’s math programs.

“As I’ve tried to articulate before and push us, we basically flood a particular focus area and overwhelm it with resources so that we can actually be successful,” Daniels said. “I would encourage us to be highly focused and not try just to find the bare minimum of program that will potentially meet the need but just … crush it with support.”

A public hearing for the budget cut recommendations will be held June 13, and final decisions will be made June 27.

Cade Johnson is the lead schools and communities reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @cadejohnson98.